“DC Rights for Renters – Getting Your Security Deposit Back”

Photo by PoPville flickr user nevermindtheend

“Dear PoPville,

My husband and I lived in a large fancy apartment building in Mt. Vernon for our first year in DC and had a very good experience there – until we moved out. I’m sure you here many stories about landlords unfairly withholding security deposits for bogus claims and this is one of those stories. However, luckily we have lawyers in the family who were able to remind our landlord of our rights – and get our money back! I thought I’d pass along some of that information to share with others as I know this is a very busy time for moving:

– Generally, any damage discovered after the walk-through and the signing of the inspection forms is not the responsibility of the tenant.
– Landlords may reserve the sole discretion to schedule the walk-through inspection in your lease, but they can not schedule the inspection and then claim that the inspection was done at a time that did not allow for proper light to see all damages (as our landlord did)
– Our lease provided for the landlord giving at least ten days notice of any inspections and the tenant having a right to be present during any inspection, however the landlord claimed the alleged damage was discovered during a 2nd walk through (conducted the day after our lease ended and we were not given notice of the 2nd inspection!). This 2nd walk through was totally illegal because we were not given notice.
– Landlords generally should provide photographs or other evidence (such as an estimate or proposal for repairs) of the condition of any damage prior to and after repairs.
– Pay close attention to any documents your landlord provides – we noticed discrepancies between the alleged damage “extensive damage to wood floors” and the alleged invoice stating “laminate” was installed. If the floors were indeed hardwood, other measures such as sanding and staining should have been explored before any replacement occurred.

You don’t need a “lawyer letter” to reclaim your security deposit in full. I pointed out the discrpencies to the landlord before we sent the lawyer letter, however we were only refunded a part of it and I was told it was because the landlord “could tell I was smart.” That infuriated me even more, although I think the point is that you can use some common sense when you are wronged by your landlord.”

25 Comment

  • Don’t assume that just because you have a family attorney that you have the right to bully the landlord. If you did damage, you should man-up (or woman-up) and pay for the damage your did. If you did no damage, then you should have nothing to worry about.

    • Sorry, this is bullshit. My friends got sent to collections after their landlord falsely claimed they damaged the apartment. Landlords lie about this stuff all the time.

    • How is this person bullying the landlord? Did you not read? She said the landlord was withholding her deposit based on bogus claims. Are you challenging the premise that if a claim is bogus?

      • I’m not so sure I’d agree that the landlord’s claims were bogus. Perhaps in this case they were, but I’m not entirely clear that the OP didn’t in fact create some damage to the floors that the landlord couldn’t see with the available lighting at night. (I’ve had instances where there was damage that I couldn’t see without daylight — fortunately, it was very minor damage.)

    • This isn’t bullying. It’s claiming your right as a tenant. When I was moving out of my old building, I informed my landlord a month in advance, they told me they would follow up to schedule and inspection. Two weeks later, nothing. I called and left a message. Again nothing. I emailed, mailed official letters. Finally, I moved out, and went to return the key, only to have the receptionist look totally surprised that I was vacating the unit. She took my key and said to expect a deposit within 45 days, adding “but it might be late.” “No,” I said “you have to return it within 45 days. That’s the law.” “Yeah, but it might be late.” she said, winking, as if to say “We’ll be breaking the law. You’re cool with that, right?” On day 45, I went to the court to pick up documents to file a small claims case against the company. I came home that night to find an envelope with the check in a puddle about 5 feet from my mailbox with an uncanceled stamp. There are some landlords you have to bring out the big guns for, or they will take advantage of you.

  • I’m a little confused. Can this part be elaborated? “Generally, any damage discovered after the walk-through and the signing of the inspection forms is not the responsibility of the tenant. “

    • As in, they have to check thoroughly when doing a walk-through with you. That’s their chance to identify damage – they can’t come back later and say they found something. This is very similar to move-in – you identify the damage with them before you take over the apartment.

    • I’m sure someone else can explain better, but I’m assuming that since the walk-through happens at the end of the lease, if the landlord says everything is okay at that time and you’ve moved out, there’s no evidence to prove that you’d caused the damage since the walk-through. So they can’t charge you for it if they find something they missed.
      Then again I could be totally wrong.

  • I have rented various apartments/group houses throughout my 10 years in DC and experienced two separate landlords who were unwilling to return my security deposit. With both, we conducted a walkthrough prior to move out where they made a checklist of things that needed to be addressed – minor spackling, re-painting walls, etc. In both situations all changes were made at my expense, yet they still tried to withhold my deposit and would not communicate with me as to why.

    In both situations, after 45 days (the amount of time in which landlords have to return your deposit) I threatened to take legal action. Both returned the deposits almost immediately.

    I do not think that all landlords are scum, but some are (same with renters!). Don’t get taken advantage of!

  • I’ve actually had the opposite experience in one apartment downtown. I had broken a window pane just before moving out, that I fully acknowledged that I broke (and said as much in my notice). But when it came time to move out, they were so eager to renovate the place, they didn’t even bother with a walk through. They just cut the check for the complete deposit (didn’t even take out for the window) and I moved on my merry way.

    Now, it was a little annoying that they started renovating before my lease actually ended. I had shuttled everything to my new place about a week prior to the end so I could go on a trip. They saw that and started renovating post-haste. It didn’t cause any harm on my part, but was.. special.

  • Never caused any damages. So, never let my landlord be in a position to keep my deposit. Heard enough stories about landlords keeping deposits for no or bogus reasons to never let it happen to me. Use it for your last rental payment. Have done this in 7 apartments in 4 cities – landlords never had a problem with it – no one ever said a word. I let them know what I was doing in a notice letter, topped off with a small check if the rent had risen over the amour of the deposit, and was done with it. Works best if you never give more than 1 month’s deposit. It is not legal to take more than than month’s rent as deposit in DC, but somewhat common to ask for two months, or “first & last month’s rent & security deposit” in NYC – I just passed those places by.

    • I just had great tenants move out and happily gave them their security deposit back at the end of their walkthrough, even though the law allows 45 days. (Why should I keep someone else’s money just because the law says I can?) I would not, however, accept the security deposit as the last month’s rent, as that defeats the purpose of being able to hold someone accountable for damages. By the way, in almost 20 years of being a landlord I have never not returned the full deposit…but I have been very lucky with great tenants with a couple of exceptions.

      • Yes, you wouldn’t like it, but what would you realistically do about it? Considering, especially, if you’d been in the place and saw the tenant created no damages?

        • Probably not much if they were good tenants, but I also operate under the approach of working as partners with my tenants; I provide a nice home and maintain it properly and in a timely manner, and in exchange, they pay rent and let me know of anything needing attention so that I can repair or replace it promptly. With this kind of a good working relationship with mutual respect, I guess I am fortunate enough that my tenants don’t feel the need to withhold payment of their last month’s rent, so for me it is a non-issue. It stinks that all landlords can’t simply be decent, but I guess that that goes for tenants too!

          • Agreed with jt. I’d be irritated if a tenant tried to pull the “I’m not giving you the last month’s rent and you can keep my security deposit” thing on me. (And to date I have returned the full deposit for all tenants.)

        • Ask nicely, apply the late fee, ask nicely offering to waive the late fee, indicate collections and credit reporting are options, provide less than fully positive reference.

    • anonymous, as a landlord I would provide you a poor review as a tenant if you pulled the “not paying the last month’s rent cuz that’s my security deposit back” trick.

      It’s in the lease that that is unacceptable.

  • Had a similar incident with a larger management company recently (cough, Bozutto, cough). I felt the charges were completely unfair based on documents they had given us outlining replacement and damage fees, among other issues that the management repeatedly failed to resolve that cost me 100’s of dollars. Management refused to even have a conversation with me but eventually the fees were waived if I agreed to remove negative reviews on yelp, fb, etc and to halt a BBB complaint.

    • I had similar problems with Wexford PM and I think the only thing that saved me is that before I moved into my new place, the condo board had hired them to be our new PMs and I basically made it clear to the woman managing our account that I was extremely unhappy with the company, and was unlikely to vote to keep them as our PMs for the following year if I had to deal with more of their bullshit.

  • Years ago when I was moving out of a unit that had serious issues from a flood from above me, I was convinced I wouldn’t see a dime of my security deposit back. Yet 40 days or so later I got a check for nearly the entire amount. They deducted a whopping $22.50.

  • If you haven’t damaged the place, simply don’t pay the final month’s rent and leave the deposit to be kept.

    Works 80% of the time.

    • Tenants like you are why I always pull a Tenascan report on prospective tenants. That’s shady behavior.

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